The Importance of the “Unexpected” Character

In many, if not most of my books, I end up writing in a character who was totally unplanned, totally a stranger, totally unexpected. I don’t doubt other writers have had this problem because I have talked to many who most certainly have – and we all end up thinking the same thing. “What do I do with this character?”

Sometimes the character pops into mind as a catalyst to help me move the story forward. Sometimes he (and it is sometimes a “she”) is needed to help me fulfill my plot line that for one reason or another is failing me. Sometimes he simply becomes necessary to the story to make it more realistic or believable. Sometimes the unexpected character just nudges his way into the story whether I want him or not. And sometimes … all too often … I begin to like that character more than I should. He becomes so important and interesting and likeable (or even hateful) that I realize he needs to have a story of his own. I realize I could actually write an entire book with him as the hero (or her as the heroine). I already have one in mind about two characters from my fourth Jake book – THE LAST OUTLAW – Sourcebooks September 2017.

Sometimes the unexpected character becomes too important – so important that I have to take him or her entirely out of the current story because he or she begins to overshadow the true hero or heroine.

I love unexpected characters because they help build my plot, help the hero or heroine grow or change or make an important decision. They can end up being a sounding board for the hero or heroine. Conversations and interaction with the unexpected characters can even help tell back story in an entertaining way. And the unexpected character always opens the avenue for a great plot twist or plot enhancement … or … as I said above, they can actually bring me an idea for an entirely new story.

I love writing with no plot line and no outline. I don’t need either one. My stories just unfold before my eyes as I write them, and that is why other characters fall into place so easily. I’m not confined to a specific plot and I never, ever write “formula” books, wherein only certain things can happen and they must happen in a certain order. No, thanks. I’d much rather not even know myself what’s going to happen in my stories, or even know how the book will end. I honestly don’t know the ending until I write it, and I think that helps make it more exciting for my readers because they “feel” that same suspense.

The Christmas story I am writing for Sourcebooks presented me with a very unexpected character, who opened up everything I needed for the story. It’s a Harkner family Christmas, and because it’s a Christmas story, Jake (who my readers know can be a very ruthless man and who has led a very hard life) has to show his softer side (yes, there is one!). “Gentle” Jake is buried deep, but he’s there. It takes one of his granddaughters to really bring out that side of him, but that wasn’t enough for this story. Jake has to face changing times, wherein he can no longer deal his own form of justice because “times are changing” in the West. It’s the very late 1800’s and law and order is becoming the rule.

Jake learned this lesson pretty well in THE LAST OUTLAW, the fourth book of my Outlaw series; however, he still had some learning to do at the end of that book. To see a real change in Jake, he couldn’t just inter-act with someone sweet and someone he would already naturally love. He had to inter-act with a “bad guy,” so to speak – someone un-loveable and someone Jake would rather beat to a pulp or put a gun between his eyes.

Along comes mister “unexpected” character. He comes into the story as simply a protagonist to show how good Jake is with a gun and how Jake takes no “you know what.” But AS SOON AS I WROTE THIS CHARACTER INTO THE STORY I realized he could also be the one who teaches Jake a lesson in forgiveness and tolerance.

Oh, my gosh, it worked out perfectly!! I was going to have this person just come into the story – bring out Jake’s angry side and show (possibly new) readers what a tough guy Jake is. After all, people who’ve never read my Outlaw books might pick up the anthology my short Christmas story is in, and my short story might be the only thing they read by Rosanne Bittner. So I was looking for a way to show them Jake’s real personality and a way to bring back some of Jake’s history by opening the book with the “real” Jake.

Yet all along I was thinking – “Christmas story” – “Christmas story.” I couldn’t have raw sex or a lot of the “blood and guts” gritty western writing found in my Outlaw books. This story had to have a theme of forgiveness and joy and the celebration of the birth of Christ and the beauty of Christmas giving. So I had to fill Jake with the Christmas spirit and definitely needed a “happy ending.”

I think my readers (and any new readers) will love A CHIC-A-DEE CHRISTMAS. It is sweet, touching, a bit of a tear-jerker, and a true Christmas story in every way. I can’t wait to hear from my readers on this story. It’s part of an unnamed anthology Sourcebooks will publish just one month after my fourth Outlaw book, THE LAST OUTLAW, in September 2017, so readers can go right from book #4 into a Harkner Christmas and enjoy the family in one of the happiest Christmases they have had in years. And most of it is due to my “unexpected” character.

Available HERE



Post a Comment